Ideas are like yoga postures

Yoga primarily increases the flexibility of the body. You start from a comfortable posture and work up to greater and greater levels of suppleness through gradual increments of stretching. Some yoga postures are so extreme that only lifelong practitioners can achieve them.

Ideas are similar in that they test the flexibility of your mind. Schools attempt to start from a comfortable intellectual posture and through gradual increments of mental stretching work up to, er.. a sitting position. OK, perhaps schools are not the best example, but basically you try to stretch your mind by exposing yourself to more challenging ideas as you get older (at least those of us interested in ideas, try to). However, there is one crucial difference between yoga and ideas.

You can observe a yoga posture as demonstrated by a teacher and then try it for yourself. Depending on your suppleness, you can either achieve the posture demonstrated or you can get so far then something will hurt which forces you to stop. With ideas however, you lose the option to stop. This is because to understand what is being communicated, to see the idea, you also have to try the idea in your consciousness. So if you find an idea particularly challenging, it is like having the teacher physically forcing your body into an advanced yoga posture without any regard to your level of suppleness. That means sometimes, it’s going to hurt.

For example, you are made aware of a radical new idea, say, it is scientifically proven that there is only you existing in the universe, that everything else is a figment of your imagination and that you have been making it all up as you go along. For some, the idea is so outrageous and so far outside their normal experiences that it doesn’t make any sense to them and it doesn’t register as a threat to their world view. It is like a yoga master levitating. As onlookers, we know that it is impossible to levitate so therefore we rationalise that it is some kind of trick. For others, the idea is just about comprehensible but it is so abhorrent to their world view that it badly dislocates something in their consciousness and every time they subsequently come across the idea, it hurts them. Such an injustice cannot be allowed to continue and they make every effort to discredit the source of their pain.

We have seen this happen many times throughout history. Science has been the grand master of extreme intellectual yoga and many people have been hurt by its growing repertoire of impossible ‘flat pack’ postures.

But here’s a tip on how to survive the fierce contortions of any radical idea. Start from the hardest posture of all. Let me explain.

I once read a yoga book by B K S Iyengar who developed a particularly strenuous style of yoga. Some of the photographed postures that Iyengar adopted in this book I found appalling in their grotesqueness. In one picture, he had the soles of his feet placed flatly on his chest. The postures grew more and more difficult as the book progressed until right at the end of the book he warned that the final postures was the ultimate one and therefore the hardest to master. With a nervous hand I turned over the final page, steeling myself for the unnatural abomination that was about to confront me. And there it was, a photograph of Iyengar lying supine, arms and legs out straight as if asleep. I laughed in astonishment. The caption explained why this was the hardest posture of all. It was the ‘meditation’ posture where the practitioner was supposed to empty their mind of all thoughts – an impossibility for most people.

And that should be your intellectual starting position; that everything you know is wrong. Any idea after that is merely a pleasurable little stretching exercise, the kind of thing you do after a comfortable nap.

If, after visiting this blog, you would like an additional mental work out I can recommend this book by Scott Adams. It’s free and it explores some fundamental assumptions about ‘reality’. If you enjoy exploring ideas (and I know you do because you are here) then there is some fun to be had in this book which describes one or two postures I hadn’t seen before.

4 Responses to “Ideas are like yoga postures”

  1. sfauthor says:

    Nice posting. Do you know about these yoga books?

  2. yoga is very helpful with diabetes and also for stress/anxiety’~.

  3. Led Spots  says:

    i always do Yoga every week because it is essential to my overall well being,`,

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